Why your indie game is doomed to fail

This is part 2 of my indie marketing series. If you missed the first one, find it here.

Indie game developers have a difficult task.

Long hours split between concepting and art, coding and testing can grind lesser devs down to a fine powder. Developers work hard and, often, for little or no money.

What drives them? An optimist (me) might say they do it for the art. They love games and they want to make their ideal game to play and enjoy.

But, judging by the comments I received on my last post, Why indie game developers suck at marketing, the “for-the-art” idea is mostly wishful thinking and devs really, really, really want to see their game succeed and make them rich.

You made a game! Now watch the money roll in.

Yeah, not quite.

I’m sure after all those long and grindy hours of development, the finished product must seem like the light at the end of the longest tunnel of geekness. Alas, if you want your game to actually sell, that is far from the case.

Trying to pin down reliable statistics regarding percentage of successful games is extremely difficult. Since Steam Greenlight and Early Access, the number of PC games has skyrocketed. According to one source, only 25 percent of Early Access games ever reach full release.

And the mobile games industry has swelled beyond reason. According to Gamasutra, 500 games were lauched per day on iOS in 2014. That’s per day! For just one platform!

This is staggering. How can independent developers even hope to stand a chance in this saturated market?

Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 12.40.47 PM.png

Statistics from the App Store. I found this after this article was already complete. #Staggering!


What can you do?

First and foremost: make a great game.

In today’s market, there is absolutely no way a shoddy, half-finished game stands a chance. And sadly, there are plenty of these out there. I think developers get ambitious, start a project, find the grind too much to handle and rush to make their game playable-ish. So the half-baked product hits the market with its fly unzipped.

Even though very few people will ever play said game, it still takes up a spot in the market, watering down the pool and, as a result, watering down the chances that any player will ever find your game. Five hundred a day! That’s 182,500 games per year! Shoppers will have to scroll through 182,499 games to find yours.

Sorry, I digress. This isn’t a mobile-targeted article. PC devs are part of this. Where will your game be in my Greenlight queue? I don’t have good statistic for Steam, but every time I log in, I am bombarded with new games that look like steaming piles of garbage with terrible reviews. Will I play them? No I will not.

So. What my rant is meant to say is that, while the actual development process is only the beginning, top-notch development and quality art and programming are absolutely crucial if you ever want to sell a copy. The best marketing in the world can’t keep a terrible game afloat.

If your game isn’t pretty, responsive, deep and enjoyable, clever marketing will only draw more attention to how bad it turned out, and your problems will be even worse.

In today’s market, there is no holding back. If you aren’t able to give absolutely 100 percent effort, don’t even bother. Sorry. Your game must literally be one in a million to even stand a chance of turning a profit.

Your amazing game is complete and totally kickass! Now what?

Done already? That was quick.

Okay, so now that your totally amazing, badass game is donezo, it goes to market, yadda yadda. It’s time for marketing.

What is marketing?

Stupid question, right? But I think it’s important to address. In my last post, I told indie devs that they suck at marketing, so now I should explain what it is they suck at. Or to be proper, what it is at which they suck.

Marketing is everything.

I mean that figuratively and literally.

Once an item exists within a market, literally every thing written, published, mentioned or even whispered about is marketing. Even your mom is marketing. When she tells your Aunt Jennifer about your new little game, and Auntie Jen and her kiddos download it, you’ve been successfully marketed. Thanks, Mom!

Without marketing, your game is never exposed to an audience at all.

No marketing, no sales. Period.

The good news is that much of your competition never does anything more than putting their game on a market and doing a few Facebook posts. They believe that a good product will sell itself. This is simply not true.

Of the hundreds of thousands of games released each year, how many of them have actually crossed your radar? A few hundred perhaps? This is because very few developers actually put real effort into getting their game noticed. I delved a little bit into this in my previous article.

Of course, marketing via your mother is extremely limited in scope. What you really want to tap into is Mass Marketing! Which consists of traditional channels that usually come to mind: TV and Web commercials, billboards, telemarketing, print ads.

But how many of those is even a real option for your independent game?

In the olden days, of course ,video games were marketed with great success in print magazines. (GamePro and Nintendo Power, anyone?) Television was rife with game commercials and still is. Unfortunately, TV advertising is mind-bogglingly expensive and therefore in the realm of major releases like Halo and Call of Duty. Same with billboards (I pass a Dark Souls 3 billboard on my way to work every day.)

So what marketing channels are open for independent developers?

With so many forms of advertising almost completely ruled out, the only things really accessible to indies are Web and social. But guess what? Web and social media are more than enough! And best of all, they are cheap!

So! Do you have some idea of what you’re up against? Can you see how blatantly the deck is stacked against you? I certainly hope so.

My point here is not to try to scare indie devs, but rather to open their eyes to what an uphill battle they face. And why, like it or not, marketing has to come into play if they want to move units.

As this article is part of a series, I will end it here, with no answers given. I’ve got great things to share with you, but I’m holding this information hostage until you read my next article. Next time, I will address specific marketing channels and how you can use them. I’ll give you actual, useful tips.

Probably. Unless I feel like writing something else. Writers are artists too, you know.


9 thoughts on “Why your indie game is doomed to fail

    1. This article was originally meant to have some tips. But once I started digging into these numbers, I got sidetracked.

      I know the title is very negative, but I just want devs to see what they’re up against. The indie game market is absolutely saturated with games. Fortunately for good developers, most of them are garbage. So there is hope for those who can stick it out until their game is just right, and take advantage of social and web to gain an audience.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I liked these two articles and am looking forward to the next one.
    I find really interesting how game devs meet problems musicmakers know for so long : the overabondance of competition.

    Music making (or rather producing) has became incredibly more accessible to a broad audience of creators in the last 2 decades … and that’s great !
    It also means, however, that there are gazillions of songs created, produced and shared everyday…which makes promoting music even more challenging.
    I guess our chance, as musicians, is that we have live performance to connect and interact with our community.

    I’m no gamedevs but I feel like creating a game is also much easier than 10 years ago which result in the 500 new titles a day for iOS only.

    Anyway, good stuff, looking forward for what’s coming in the next article.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The figures are very misleading and what you rightly pointed out is that the vast majority of games are just utter garbage, it would be nice to see some figures of how many games that is, I bet it’s close to 90% but I guess we’ll never know.
    Ergo, if you’ve made a finished and polished game with decent graphics and game play, with a little self promotion you shouldn’t have too much problem getting your game app near the top of the crap heap to be found and get some payback for all your hard work.
    The secret is in the marketing.


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